Despite its size and prominence in European history, Budapest has never had the same reputation as a Paris or a Rome. As historic and grand as any of the great European capitals, Budapest has long been a getaway for the more seasoned traveller. Those who do make the trip are grateful they did, as wide avenues, gorgeous architecture, delicious food and beer and a generous population awaits them.
Split into two distinct cities, the older, hilly Buda and the modern, dense Pest, the Hungarian capital is awash with colour, life and art. Bars are charming and affordable, bakeries and restaurants line the streets, while huge cathedrals and gothic era buildings are a feast for the mind. Growing in prominence in recent years, partly due to the international music festival Sziget, Budapest has now truly established itself as one of the more beautiful destinations in Europe. Along with this influx of travellers, an Instagram boom has emerged, allowing the world to gaze upon the splendid cityscapes for themselves.
If you find yourself in Budapest in the future and fancy yourself a photographer, make sure you don’t miss these spots!
SZECHENYI THERMAL BATH
For hundreds of years, Budapest has been famed for its thermal baths, and most famous of these is Széchenyi. Located on the northwestern rim of the city centre, the architecture in this area is worth going to see alone. A relic of a time where huge amounts of wealth were spent on adoring buildings with accessories. Pastel coloured walls, large domes and balconies adorn the surrounding buildings, and after you are done ‘gramming, it’s a cheap to enter and relax in a heated pool.
VAJDAHUNYAD CASTLE/VÁROSLIGET CITY PARK
One of many of the parks and botanic gardens that make Budapest one of the greenest capitals in Europe. While not the largest, Városliget has a number of monuments, statues and stunning buildings contained within it, including the Széchenyi thermal baths and Vajdahunyad Castle. Like something plucked from a Disney movie, Vajdahunyad sits on a picturesque most near the entrance to the garden and is free to enter.
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT BUILDING/KOSSUTH LAJOS SQUARE
The seat of political power in Budapest and its most iconic building. A number of jutting spires and red domes give it its iconic look. Striking in every sense of the world, architecture of its like does not exist anywhere else in Europe, looking almost frightening in its beauty. Impressive from all angles, it is situated in Kossuth Lajos Square, which is also home to a number of other attractions. A large grass pavilion is home to street performers and buskers, while soldiers in decorative garb march the square at selected times. Behind, the natural history museum sits. Truly one of the most beautiful areas of Budapest.
A small mezzanine located near Kossuth Lajos Square, this area is home to a number of sculptures dedicated to the history of Hungary. A large pillar dedicated to Vladimir Lenin, an artefact of the communist occupation, statues of former U.S. presidents, and a charming Parisian café located in the centre. Soldiers memorials and tributes to victims of the Nazi occupation line the sides. A quiet getaway in the middle of the city.
Located at the entrance to Városliget, Heroes Square looks like something more suited to Rome. A vast marble plaza with huge statues and pillars, clad in white and aged bronze. An imposing site, as was intended, and large enough to give you plenty of room to get several angles. The architecture here varies from modernist to classical, with references to ancient Greek and Rome abounding on all sides.
ZECHENYI CHAIN BRIDGE
One of the main bridges that cross the famous Danube river. Large, Renaissance-era constructs man the length of the bridge, allowing for some great snapshots of Buda as you cross from Pest. Those with a discerning eye will see how it helps frame the older portion of the city. Views of the river bank and its architecture are also available if you cast your eye down either side. Be careful, however, as locals do not take kindly to tourists standing in the middle of the pavement while they are trying to cross.
Arguably the best spot in the city for scenic/landscape photography, Fisherman’s Bastion is the name given to a large man-made overlook in Buda. With sweeping views of Pest, particularly the parliament building, and other works of architecture (in particular the gorgeous church behind), Fisherman’s bastion is an absolute must for any traveller. Easily accessible by foot or public transport, to miss it is a cardinal sin.
The ancient seat of power in Budapest, this looks less like a medieval castle and more like a grand Italian palazzo. A large dome adorns the top, and it is visible from all areas of the city. Its position in Buda means that it is on a constant vantage point to Pest. Large courtyards, greens gardens and sweeping walkways adorn the grounds around the castle, and there is usually a performance of some kind.
Sat atop Buda’s tallest point, the liberty statue is Europe's answer to the Christo Redentor. Imposing and with an overlook of the entire city, it is advised to travel here at night. The walk up leads to some stunning views and some of the best sculpture in the city. At the top, large groups of people gather at the top to listen to music, admire the sites, or take a beer at one of the portable bars that frequent this spot. The city lights up, making for a beautiful silhouette and one of the best views in Europe.
The historic district that the Jewish people inhabit within the city, it is home to some of the best architecture within the city. Cramped, charming apartment buildings, wrought iron fences, natural ivy decorations and the best street art in the city. Historically significant, this area of the city is protected by its parliament and is also home to a number of preserved synagogues. Also located here is the most famous of the ruin bars Szimpla Kert. Parts of the Jewish ghetto destroyed by Nazis, these abandoned buildings have been reclaimed and turned into some of the trendiest hostelries in the world. Hookah lounges, wine bars, cocktails gardens and a bar dedicated to pilsner, Szimpla is a must for the fun-loving ‘grammer who enjoys a brew.
ST STEPHENS BASILICA
One of the oldest and grandest of the churches in Budapest. A religious city, many of Budapest’s most beautiful structures are dedicated to one god or another. Regardless of your creed, all are welcome if they enter with respect. St Stephens, in particular, is worthy of a visit, situated in the centre of the city and having some of the most intricately decorated interiors of any house of worship that side of the Vatican. Remember to keep flash off and not to intrude on any services.
Article and photography by Benjamin Magee
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